Elizabeth Smith, James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Programs

Each year the MCA's Exhibition Program grows out of our commitment to presenting the art of our time in ways that foster thought, provoke responses, and stimulate dialogue. When visitors walk through our galleries they experience works of art that require consideration, and reconsideration, of the world in which we live. We select and develop exhibitions based on the excellence of the work itself, always striving to expose our visitors to art in a variety of media by significant artists from diverse cultures and generations. Visitors encounter provocative ideas, learn about important current trends in art, and gain meaningful insight into the creative process.

Our Exhibition Program

This spectrum of objectives and the overall richness of contemporary art were strikingly evident in the exhibitions we presented over the course of fiscal year 2005.

Skin Tight: The Sensibility of the Flesh highlighted the fascinating, parallel impulses of art and fashion, which powerfully influence and react to one another, attesting to the intriguing connections between visual art and other cultural expressions. Organized by the MCA, the exhibition has now toured a number of other venues.

Dan Peterman, an exhibition of work by the internationally known, Chicago-based artist linked ideas about recycling to questions about how humans interact with both the natural world and their technological surroundings. Peterman was named "Chicagoan of the Year in the Arts" by the Chicago Tribune for the quality of his work as revealed in our exhibition.

Between Past and Future: New Photography from China offered a range of highly individual responses to unprecedented changes now taking place in China. Featuring 130 works by sixty Chinese artists, many of whom were exhibiting for the first time in the United States, Between Past and Future provided unusual insights into the dynamics of twenty-first-century Chinese culture.

Fiona Tan: Correction became the first in our series of works jointly commissioned by the MCA, the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles devoted to artists whose works are not yet well-known in the United States. Kai Althoff: Kai No Respekt was the first U.S. exhibition of an influential younger-generation German whose work spans various media.

12 X 12: New Artists/New Work, our fast-paced series of exhibitions of work by noteworthy young artists based in Chicago, is now in its fourth year. A selection of artists who have formerly shown in the 12 X 12 series was presented in a group exhibition titled In Search of a Continuous Present at the Prague Biennial.

Universal Experience: Art, Life, and the Tourist's Eye occupied the entire MCA building and outdoor spaces with large-scale installations and sculptures, as well as more intimate photographs and videos, all responding to the experience of traveling and living within a range of cultures. A major achievement for the MCA, Universal Experience addressed myriad issues related to tourism, such as architecture, history, souvenirs, and anthropology, and included new and recent works in all media by more than seventy artists, including Vito Acconci, Doug Aitken, Peter Fischli and David Weiss, Katharina Fritsch, Thomas Hirschhorn, Jeff Koons, Andrea Robbins and Max Becher, Thomas Schütte, Thomas Struth, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Andy Warhol, Zhan Wang, and many others.

The exhibition catalogue we produced for Universal Experience received exceedingly strong reviews and is now in its second printing. Also, the nature of the project allowed us to further our goal to work across departmental lines, with an impressive array of educational and performative programs developed in concert with the wide-ranging themes of the exhibition. Universal Experience is traveling to the Hayward Gallery in London and to the MART in Italy.

MCA Collection
Innovative exhibitions based on the MCA Collection offered compelling, thematic frames for contemplating various works. The Center Is Anywhere: Chicago-Based Artists from the MCA Collection highlighted works from the mid-1980s, a particularly exciting time in Chicago art-making. Soft Edge brought together works that are subtle in their visual qualities and often organic in forms and materials, predominately made by women artists working from the 1970s to the present. Stalemate provocatively addressed the unsettling ambivalent nature of contemporary art, featuring Bruce Nauman's important 1985 work Chambres d'Amis (Krefeld Piece) as its centerpiece.

During the past year a number of stellar works entered the MCA Collection, including major works by Lee Bontecou; Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset; Dan Peterman; Fred Sandback; Fiona Tan; and many others based locally, nationally, and internationally. Whether collected from the MCA's exhibitions or identified as a way to fill gaps in our holdings, the new acquisitions represent substantial additions to the collection's trajectory and growth.

As the collection grows in scope, depth, and quality, it becomes increasingly important to our overall exhibition program, enabling us to group our holdings in illuminating, thematic ways and to suggest intriguing connections between exhibitions of work on loan and additional works of contemporary art culled from our holdings. This rich combination of works brought in for exhibitions and the creative, relevant presentation of our own collection relates to our mission to substantively interweave works on view with the overall set of museum offerings, including performances and educational programs.

Balance and variety will continue to be the hallmarks of MCA programming. We are committed to presenting a program of exhibitions and building a collection characterized by vitality, substance, and innovation. Interweaving our exhibitions program with our collection is helping us to meet our essential goal: to engender direct, rich experiences with contemporary art and ideas.